To be taken with red hand in ancient times was to be caught in the act, like a murderer with his hands red with his victim's blood. The use of red hand in this sense goes back to 15th-century Scotland and Scottish law. Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe (1819) contains the first recorded use of taken red-handed for someone apprehended in the act of committing a crime. The expression subsequently became more common as caught red-handed.
- With clear evidence of guilt.
1991 October, Edward L. Ayers, “Legacy of violence”, American Heritage, volume 42, number 6, page 102:
- Another Southerner argued that "commerce has no social illusions" and that it would be commerce that would rid the region of "this historic, red-handed, deformed, and swaggering villain."
2003, Julie Elizabeth Leto, Up to no good:
- Made sense she'd be nervous, right? Made sense that she'd jump like a red-handed pickpocket when her friend Danielle, whom she'd thought had zonked out the minute she'd buckled her seat belt ten minutes ago, threw out such an intimate topic of conversation.
2003 August, Pamela Paul, “Dear Reader, Get a Life.”, Psychology Today, volume 36, number 4, page 56:
- Your husband is having sex with other women -- that's perfectly clear. Sometimes when cheaters are nabbed red-handed they react with anger, they "rage" in an attempt to make the person who caught' em feel like they did something wrong.
- Almost always used with the verb to catch.
- ^ Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997), pp. 135-136 and 138.